So… when I was with my ex husband (who I now believe to be a narcissist) I worked really hard to learn how to not let his words or attitude get to me…. I eventually learned that ignoring his disrespect and attempts to get me riled up was much more effective than any attempt at a counter attack. He wanted me to attack …… it was a trap he set up for me to fall into… so that he could then tell me how violent I was, and what a terrible temper I had. Anyway, I did get into the habit of responding with silence, and just not playing his game. When I responded with silence, I could feel in myself that he was being a jerk, and I was taking the high road, and I wasn’t giving him anything to say otherwise.
These days I’m having trouble keeping my cool and not yelling at my 7 year old son. I feel like I should be able to apply a similar strategy. But there are some key differences in the situation…. Firstly he’s not a narcissistic husband -he’s a 7 year old boy, in need of love, guidance and mentioning. So in most circumstances I don’t feel it’s appropriate to just ignore him. I feel that I should be guiding him, while also reassuring him that I love him. Another difference that makes this strategy difficult to apply is that I have more difficulty separating and detaching myself from my son. I can’t just carry on like every thing is fine when I see him behaving poorly, because his behaviour is a reflection of me and my parenting. It makes me doubt myself. It makes me fear how much potentially irreversible damage I have done. It makes me fear that he will turn out just like his father, and I couldn’t save him……… So I have a little freak out.
I think that in general I react and let the lower, primal, survival part of my brain take over when I don’t need it to. Before I’ve even had the chance to think that yelling is not how I want to respond, its already done and finished. I feel threatened too easily and the lower part of my brain just takes over. I can’t say for sure, but I think its possible that this has something to do with me having been in such an unhealthy relationship for so long…. my brain has now been trained to believe that I am always under threat. Or maybe that’s just me…. I’ve always been a bit anxious, so I don’t know.
So. What am I going to do to fix it? What strategy can I try, so that I can stay calm with my son, and be the kind of parent I want to be….
I have to learn to NOT feel so threatened… and give the upper part of my brain a chance to work.
Reality Check: He’s a 7 year old boy, and even adults aren’t perfect. His behaviour is normal for his age. And me? I’m doing OK as a mum. I’m not perfect, but no one is. I am ok.
I need to be able to separate myself from his behaviour. His behaviour belongs to him and not me. And it is normal for a 7 year old boy. I cannot set up and enforce boundaries or guide him to better behaviour choices until I have separated myself from his behaviour. It is his, not mine. And his behaviour does not control my behaviour. I cannot control his behaviour, but I can control my behaviour and the way I respond to his behaviour. That is mine.
He and I are separate beings. But I have made a choice to love and look after him no matter what. Once I have separated myself, and activated the upper part of my brain, I can then respond to him and to his behaviour, not with silence, but with LOVE. And responding with Love may include empathising, talking through the problem together, discussing how his behaviour affects others, empathising with others, asserting my own rights, problem solving together, setting up/enforcing appropriate boundaries, or guiding him to better behaviour choices.
So the mantra for me to remember is this:
Separate myself. Activate my wise and sensible upper brain. Respond with LOVE.
That’s a little long for a mantra, so I’m going to shorten it further to:
Separate. Activate. Love.
Note: Much of this post was prompted and inspired by this article: http://www.mindful.org/how-to-teach-your-kids-about-the-brain/
(and all the usual peaceful parenting bloggers)